Summary of Graduate Employee Union Contracts

The following summary was compiled from several graduate employee union
contracts. The contracts cover a range of universities, from ones with
older and more established unions to those with more recent unions and
from large to small universities. Listed below are some major highlights
from these contracts. The links included below will take you to each union’s
home page. For links to the various contracts, go to our Contract
Links page
or surf each individual union’s site.

1. Academic Freedom:

  • At the Florida institutions represented by the Graduate
    Assistants United/UFF/AFT
    the local has negotiated an academic freedom
    provision. This section of the contract provides appropriate freedom
    for teaching assistants to “give their own interpretations of instructional
    materials used by them — whether self-chosen or prescribed by the teaching
    unit — within the bounds of knowledge and methodologies appropriate
    to the disciplinary field.” It also encourages research assistants
    to “exercise creativity and sound judgment in carrying out the
    theoretical, conceptual, and methodological design of the research under
    the guidance of the research supervisor.”

2. Anti-Discrimination:

  • Many grad unions (such as the GTFF
    at U of Oregon
    ) have included language in contracts that bind universities
    to providing detailed information on hiring practices and statistics
    to ensure compliance with non-discrimination and/or affirmative action
  • The GEO at
    U of Michigan
    and the TAA
    at U of Wisconsin (Madison)
    won contract language that requires
    departments to post jobs in a fair and open way.
  • Most union contracts have anti-discrimination clauses that often include
    sexual harassment as a prohibited act. Having these in a union contract
    allows individual grad employees to use the grievance procedure to fight
    discrimination and they allow the union to take these issues up in meetings
    with the administration.
  • The GEO at
    U of Michigan
    negotiated to create a University committee that acts
    as a watchdog for affirmative action and anti-discrimination. This committee
    produces yearly public reports on the status of affirmative action on

3. Grievance Procedure/Protection:

  • All union contracts provide a clear, formal grievance procedure that
    balances the needs and rights of graduate employees, faculty, and the
    administration. They allow for a timely and fair resolution of disputes
    that arise. Most specify strict time limits, end in independent third-party
    arbitration, and allow the right to a representative.
  • GEO’s contract at the U
    of Michigan
    specifically bars discrimination based on union activity.
    If discrimination does occur, an individual can then use the grievance
    procedure to resolve the problem rather than go through unfair administrative
    procedures or pursue costly legal avenues.
  • Many contracts also specify ways of resolving group grievances (similar
    grievances shared by more than one person).
  • Many grad union contracts require the employer to keep personnel files
    on employees. The employee is allowed to dispute the contents of her/his
    personnel file. This protects employees from malicious administrators
    or faculty. All disciplinary action and evaluations are marked in the
    personnel file.

4. Healthcare:

  • Many graduate employee contracts provide for University-paid health,
    vision, and dental benefits.
  • GEO (at Michigan)
    successfully negotiated to allow grads to choose between 8 different
    plans. Most of these plans are fully paid for by the administration
    (including family coverage)! Furthermore the majority of contracts allow
    grads to add dependents (and domestic partners on some campuses) free
    of charge, add summer coverage, and/or purchase dental and life insurance.
  • U of Oregon
    pays into a trust fund that finances a health insurance program for
    grads. The fund is run by the union with only one non-voting member
    of the administration on the fund’s Board!

5. Hours:

  • Hours are usually specified in grad union contracts in such a way
    that it maintains flexibility throughout the course of the appointment
    yet guards against abuse.
  • The TAA contract at the U
    of Wisconsin (Madison)
    requires departments and grad employees to
    agree on work requirements and peak times prior to the start of an appointment.

6. Leave:

7. Pay:

  • Many grad unions have won provisions in contracts that incorporate
    regular raises, cost of living increases, and require the University
    to cover the cost of job related activities (ie: photocopies, books,

8. Undergrad Education/Teacher Training:

  • GEO’s (Michigan)
    contract “encourages” departments to have grad representation
    on curriculum committees and “encourages” employees to give
    feedback to the department on courses. Furthermore, the union won the
    establishment of a University committee to study pedagogy and offer
    recommendations to the Administration. Grads play an equal part on this
  • U of Michigan’s
    contract ensures paid teacher training and additional training for employees
    who use English as a second language.
  • U of Oregon’s
    and U of Wisconsin’s
    contracts require departments to have ongoing evaluation
    of (and feedback for) the graduate teachers. In addition, UW-Madison
    has departments conduct their own trainings for teaching assistants.
    These trainings include diversity training. In fact, in order to get
    to the “experienced” pay tier a teaching assistant must participate
    in an additional diversity training.
  • Many grad union contracts require departments to provide suitable
    places to hold office hours, a phone, and desk space to teachers, and
    sufficient materials for the TA to do his/her job.

9. Workload:

  • U of Michigan’s
    contract ensures that grads have a say in determining the departmental
    class size limit and that each department comes up with a procedure
    on allowing (or disallowing) individual undergraduate students to enroll
    over the class size limit.

10. Workplace Safety:

  • Many grad union contracts have workplace safety clauses. For example,
    the GSEU at the State
    University of New York
    negotiated for a workplace safety committee
    that includes grads to oversee workplace safety issues. Also, the GTFF
    at the U of Oregon
    negotiated for paid training on equipment that poses a safety hazard
    for grad employees.

Other benefits of having a union include:

  • RESPECT as employees who the university can’t ignore.
  • BETTER COMMUNICATION between the administration and graduate employees.
  • A CAMPUS-WIDE ORGANIZATION bringing grads together from across campus
    and disciplines.
  • A powerful, DEMOCRATIC VOICE in the decisions that affect grads as
    vital campus employees.
  • Improved environment for UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION.
  • An INDEPENDENT ORGANIZATION run and supported by its members — not
    the administration. You are the union!